By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
You might see a website devoted to benefits of raw food diets or hear about them from fellow dog owners. The information presented may look scientific and may sound reasonable to owners.
Dogs have evolved from the wolf, which has survived and thrived on uncooked food. People use this as evidence that dogs should also eat a raw diet in order to thrive and avoid illnesses said to be due to their cooked, commercial foods. These diets have become increasingly popular, but dog owners should be aware of the actual facts and evidence behind any claims.
One claim is that the diet should be largely uncooked meat since wolves consume a highly carnivorous diet. Wolves do eat a lot of meat, but they also eat the intestines of their prey along with the droppings that they find. Thus, they are getting the benefits of partially digested plant material, though it is a small part of their diet.
Scientific studies of genes show that as the dog evolved from wolves they became less of a carnivore and more an omnivore. Dogs as omnivores are capable of chewing plant materials and digesting starches effectively. They also seem to like these foods. Many owners point out that their dogs raid vegetable gardens, eating tomatoes and other produce.
Another factor in raw ingredient diets to consider is the food safety issue. Just as meat for human consumption can carry bacteria that may cause illness, the meat for commercially available raw pet food diets also can and does. Bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella have been detected in samples of raw food diets.
The USDA product labels on meat sold in grocery stores give clear instructions on cooking so that we avoid food-borne illnesses. People have said that the dog’s intestinal tract is somehow different and can neutralize these and other bacteria, but the claim is false. Studies have shown pets fed homemade and commercial raw meat diets shed these bacteria in their feces. As a result, there is a human health risk when pets are fed these foods.
While considering using a homemade or commercial raw food diet, the pet owner should do as much research as possible on the subject. Realize the risks of having to handle dog foods carrying harmful bacteria that could cross-contaminate human foods. People need to use precautions in handling their pet’s wastes. Long-term feeding of these diets may also impact health if the diets are not nutritionally complete. More details may be available from your veterinarian on this and other topics of nutrition.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.